“If you don’t put them in, you can’t know what you’ve got.” The long remembered words to me of Matt Busby in 1958 after a dramatic match at Stamford Bridge, won by Manchester United against Chelsea in an avalanche of goals.
The Busby Babes, as they were appropriately nicknamed, were the most exciting and successful English club team of that era. True, United like Chelsea of that epoch were notorious for buying up young talent at the expense of youngsters’ local clubs who might otherwise have been expected to acquire it.
Two of United’s stars were both acquired thus. Jackie Milburn, alias Wor Jackie, the toast of Newcastle United and a close relative of Bobby Charlton, once told me of his bitter disappointment when Bobby, seemingly set to join the Magpies with a teenaged job at the local newspaper publishing firm, suddenly signed instead for Manchester United. Sissie Charlton, Bobby’s dominant mother, told Jackie apologetically, “What could we do? They offered us £750.” A lot of money then.
Duncan Edwards, due to become such a powerhouse of a left half, born at Dudley in the West Midlands, might have been expected to join either Wolves or West Bromwich Albion. If only he had? Then at the height of his formidable powers, a left half of immense drive and a fine left foot, he would not have been involved in the horrific crash of February 1958 at Munich airport on the way home from a match in Yugoslavia. Poor Edwards survived the crash, as blessedly, did Bobby, but died in hospital.
Now Everton have discovered a jewel on their doorstep in the shape of the blond 18-year-old Tom Davies who can drive through from either flank with prococious confidence and strength. His temperament is such that given a chance in an England team so desparate for new blood, he could well repeat his club form for his country.
David Moyes stirred up a hornets‘ nest, not all of it by any means the response of rampant feminists, when he patronisingly and mindlessly – even in apparent jest – responded to the competent local BBC reporter after a match drawn at home versus Burnley. It was in answer to a wholly pertinent and legitimate question – had he felt under pressure because the club’s owner, American Ellis Short, had for once in a long while been sitting in the directors’ box?
Vicki Sparks was simply and blamelessly doing her job. The television interview over, Moyes then crassly, however jokingly, said: “You still might get a slap, even though you’re a woman.”
“I have said I regret it,” he told a subsequent press conference. “I have spoken to the girl. She accepted it.” But I wonder how she liked being called “the girl”; that was obtuse and dismissive in itself.
Castigated in a statement from Gary Lineker, Moyes talked about speaking “in the heat of the moment”. Eh? That might have made more sense had he made his threat while the camera was on him rather than when the recorded conference ended.
Sunderland are plunging towards the relegation which in one way or another, not least thanks to the great escapologist Sam Allardyce, they have so recently avoided. It doesn’t look at the momento as if Moyes will go down with the shop. “I want to do the job and I want to get it right,” he says. But how?
Arsenal’s abysmal surrender at Crystal Palace must surely be the last nail in the coffin of Arsene Wenger. Such a humiliation, such a flaccid performance, ought to convince even the inert Arsenal hierachy that a fresh start at the top must urgently be made. Wenger has palpably lost his way, arguably lost it a long time ago and is now a crucial part of the problem. Finding a replacement won’t be easy, not least because there will be no fourth place and Champions Cup next season.
Clearly not all the blame can be placed on Wenger for his team’s pitiful debacle at Selhurst Park, but surely this is where the Buck stops. The players by and large seem to have declared their confidence in Wenger, but at Palace it could hardly be reciprocated. A graceful resignation would be less calamitous than an actual sacking. But the end of Wenger’s road has surely been reached.